Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Brunch with Mom at Cooks County

8009 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Last Saturday Mom and I were frantically shopping for hours all over town to buy something to wear for a big event that evening, to which in the end I wore something from my own closet. Sigh. Wasted time I will never get back. Well, not really true. I was shopping with Mom, which is fun (she was a trooper this trip) and we managed brunch perfection at newcomer Cooks County. The visit was inspired by Eater LA's Hottest New Brunch Spots Winter 2011. Located at the corner of Beverly and Fairfax in the old Mimosa/Bistro LQ space, Cooks County is brought to us by Claudio and Adria Blotta from Barbrix and cheffed by Daniel Mattern and Roxanna Jullapat, formerly of Ammo.  Now that's a pedigree worthy of Westminster.


I've been brunching a lot this year. Above is the main menu. Below is the top bit, closer up.


And below is the side wrap of the menu, pastries and a little whatnot.




Mom and I treated ourselves to some post-shopping pre-napping Turley Juvenile zin, having just visited Turley on our most recent wine tasting trip to Paso Robles. I don't remember liking it this much when we were at the tasting room. My taste buds might have been suffering that day a little from previously tasting the complex reds at Lone Madrone. The Juvenile zin was wonderful Saturday with my meal.


At the rec of the waiter, I ordered the fried eggs with harissa, garbanzos, olives, yogurt and grilled olive bread. The garbanzos were nicely roasted, kind of like I roast them at home for a cocktail snack. The harissa was not as spicy as I had hoped it to be, but the effect of all the flavors together was similar to the infamous chicken recipe but instead with the ubiquitous breakfast protein. I can easily see recreating this at home (I might find a way to sneak in some smoked paprika). On Chopped recently (which I watch obsessively, even reruns, which drives the spousal unit nuts), one of the judges commented that the grilled bread on one plate was gratuitous and not really connected to the dish (probably that bitch Alex Guarnaschelli).  I found the grilled bread on this plate the perfect food to mouth vehicle for my eggs, harissa and yogurt. I think I licked the plate.


I wish there was more bar seating. This seems almost gratuitous. There are four seats. People can sit there and be fed. But it doesn't really have the bar feel that I love. I clearly need to come in and try it out my damn self.


Mom ate the duck egg crostone, with housemade pancetta, chicory and Parmesan. This picture makes my mouth water. Mom, that morning you said you had no idea what a crostone is, well please to click link to the left. She described it to Claudia later that day as toad-in-the-hole with pancetta, bitter greens and parm. Again, plate lickable.


The build out is gorgeous, rustic but polished. Not the most original design, but done really well. There were several choices on the wine-by-the-glass list that tempted me, and that's a pleasant oddity. The next step is a visit for dinner.

post script: I secretly love Alex Guarnaschelli and all her weird faces.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Three Veggie Tastes at Lazy Ox Canteen

241 South San Pedro
Los Angeles, CA 90012

On the afternoon of my last business trip to now beloved Paso Robles, D and I swung by Lazy Ox for a quick late lunch before I hit the road. We snoozled up to the bar, received service perfection, and noshed at a variety of primarily vegetable dishes. My personal barometer of excellent chefdom is measured by treatment of the vegetables. In all three dishes (even the third where the shrimp looks prominent in the snap) veggies headline and protein is the accessory. The perfect balance of acid, savory, sweet, and spicy in all dishes is why Lazy Ox has made such a name for itself in Los Angeles. The J. Gold 99 Essential, three stars by Irene, impressing the typically more upscale KevinEats, and pleasing whoever the hell this guy is.


brussel sprouts w/ spanish chorizo


caramelized cauliflower w/ pine nuts, chile & mint


grilled cabbage w/ piquillo pepper & almonds, shrimp

Although it claims to be a gastrupub, I find little or nothing pubby about it. This is a food person's restaurant that happens to have an incredibly well crafted beer and wine list. None of the fray tipified by a true gastropub like The Eagle or The Village Idiot. I used my Blackboard Eats 20% coupon, which covers tax and tip. And I already have reservations for a special holiday dinner coming right up. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The First Meal: Shin Sen Gumi

Shin Sen Gumi
132 So. Central Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013


A few weeks back D and I procured a nasty little case of salmonella food poisoning from food we ordered in, nothing crazy, just one of our regular places. No names mentioned, they were extremely kind about it although they claimed we were the only complainants. I ended up stranded in Santa Cruz on a 100% unproductive business trip, rolling around in a hotel room bed moaning for two days at various volumes and whatnot while D suffered at home alone. Finally able to return home, we spent another 36 hours sleeping off the remnants. Point being, our first meal in three+ days was ramen. There is nothing better for what ails you than a well crafted broth, some beautiful noodles and a bright cheery atmosphere.


We sat at the bar in the space formerly known as the now defunct Izayoi, my ex-most favorite izakaya. Sigh. If Izayoi had to go, this is a worthy replacement. Ironically, I thought Little Tokyo was previously lacking in excellent ramen, Daikokuya really being the only worthy venue. Couple the wait at Daikokuya with my husband's lack of patience for waiting and it's happy I am that there is a new ramen locale right in time for cold weather.


I like Shin Sen Gumi's style.  One basic broth with lots of options for additives you fill in yourself on a sushi style menu, add a few signature creations located at the bottom of the menu. I was looking for simplicity on the date in question ergo I settled on the basic ramen with a few run of the mill extras.


Spicy miso. One does not order spicy miso broth, instead the waiter brings you a beautiful little red ball of spicy miso paste and you can flavor it to your liking.


I added corn and lots of seaweed. D had a little army of side dishes to the right of his giant bowl. Trying to be gentle to my tender tummy, I couldn't really look at too many flavors. But next time I intend to get crazy. Really light that place on fire.


The outcome. Delicious but not the best I have ever had purely judging the broth alone. In descending order comes first and always Rokuan in Chino Hills. Second, Daikokuya. Shin Sen Gumi is third, again based solely on broth. The broth at Shin Sen Gumi is clear, light and salty, while I love dark, deep and murky. I prefer the atmosphere at Shin Sen Gumi to all three, it's light, bright, bustling and loud af. Love the approach with regard to ordering. It's never quite as busy as Daikokuya (D goes often), and it's a helluva lot closer than Chino Hills.

When my iron clad stomach returns (and it has not as of this posting), I will visit Shin Sen Gumi to try the most exotic sounding signature creation, eat it while drinking lots of sake, dance on the tables and spit into the wind.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dog Friendly in Palm Springs at the Ace Hotel

701 E Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA


A few weeks back J, our office travel guru, booked me into the Ace for a week's stay in Palm Springs. The Ace was a completely new spot for me (and pet friendly) so Jackson and I were ready for some adventure!


Everything is just a little retro 1970's California style, in a good way. Diner, bar, spa, gym, etc.


A friend forewarned me that the Ace can be a bit douchebaggardly. I am happy to report I suffered no such experience. Everyone and everything I came across was top notch, warm and friendly.


Sprinkled throughout the property are common areas with fireplaces and ample seating.


I had a couple glasses of wine in the bar one night seated next to a salty old dog who didn't understand why I was surrounded by the tools of technology. Part of the generation gap, I suppose. So many of us nowadays go nowhere without means for constant communication. I remember the days when I used to sit in a bar with a book or magazine. Now, I am reading or working from a tablet, the glow lighting my face with an unflattering spectral aura.


I loved my room, with its comfy bed, good sheets, and surf aesthetic no matter how incongruous mid-desert.




Jackson and I shared a patio room with a locking gate. French doors lead out to the patio so he could come and go as he pleased.  One thing worth noting: the Ace is pet friendly with a cost. You must inhabit a patio room which is a $40 upgrade and you must pay an extra $25 per night. So technically a dog is an extra $65 per night above a regular room. Having said that, the property is extremely pet friendly, the facilities are well set up to accommodate dogs of all sizes, lots of room for strolling among other things.


Among the other things is a small dog park. It's not huge but it's definitely adequate for some leash free roaming and a good poop.


Something I loved about the Ace as a female traveler were the broad walking areas fenced in securely on the property. I could walk the J-dog at night without worrying about serial killing strangers and whatnot. There's plenty of room on the property for unaccosted roaming about.


For a little human leash free roaming, hit the well equipped gym.


Lots of cardio machines, full set of free weights, medicine balls and this and that.


Scooter rental. If it weren't for the extra $65 a night, the Ace would be my regular hotel in Palm Springs as I launch into a new contract there this year. Unfortunately that puts my personal and professional budget right over the edge. I definitely see myself staying here maybe once a year as a treat. And a treat it was. For both of us.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What's Up, Rivera? Fall 2011

1050 S. Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Last week D and I stopped in at his favorite restaurant, Rivera, to check out the happs. All is well at our favorite upscale Latin food venue. Had a beautiful meal and excellent service.


In a bold move, D started with a cocktail. There is almost nothing D loves more than tequila or beef jerky, except tequila and beef jerky together in spicy/sweet capsicum cocktail, the Barbacoa. This time he ordered it with mezcal for a smoky punch. We ran into our friend Colin that night (now general manager of gorgeous new cocktail bar Monty in Westlake) and influenced his drinking decisions as well. When we saw him last night at Monty, he thanked us for the cocktail rec.


Since our visit to Spain last summer, I crave stuffed piquillo peppers as soon as I see them on a menu or the minute someone mentions their name.  Piquillos at Rivera are a cut above all the piquillos I ate at pintxo bars up and down Barcelona at all hours of the day and night  (typically stuffed simply with goat cheese). Sedlar's are stuffed with raisins, chorizo and gruyere. To be honest, they are heavier on the gruyere with just a touch of raisin or chorizo. I would like to taste the stronger flavors of the chorizo and raisin with a little more pop. Still, delicious, drizzled with luscious olive oil, topped with chives.


We shared the mussels. Steamed in a pisco aji amarillo broth. Perfectly tender, melt in your mouth mussels. I would expect nothing less out of Sedlar's kitchen.  There is more than a little pedigree in Jonathon Rivera Sedlar's kitchen. Esquire has named him chef of 2011, he has a place in Food + Wine magazine's Honor Roll of American Chefs and was even a Top Chef Master! Do I care? Not really, as long as the food is good I am unconcerned with awards. However, I did enjoy watching someone whose food I eat a few times a year compete on Bravo. (I love tv too much.) Point being, those mussels were cooked to the exact deliciousness one would expect from a chef so lauded.


We both ate seared sea scallops on an eggplant bed with preserved lemon and ras al hanout, Moorish style. The Arabic script across the plate in ras al hanout spells arabesque, the name of the dish. There are several references to Middle Eastern food strewn about the Rivera menu: ras al hanout, preserved lemons, eggplant, Moorish spices, medjool dates. The Moors conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711 brought many Middle Eastern food stuffs to Spain, including cumin, olives coriander, aniseed, saffron and more. The fact that Tarifa at the tip of Spain is only 15 km from Morocco across the Straits of Gibralter doesn't exactly inhibit the cultural drift that makes Spanish food both so beautifully diverse and pungently flavorful. Rivera's menu reflects both the varied flavors found in Spain and also the central American food we Los Angelenos know and love so well, elevating ingredients to levels of elegance while still offering flavors that are often familiar and comforting. Wrapping up my tangent, the scallops were wonderful.

Things remain exactly as we left them last time at Rivera. Delicious.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fat Spoon in Little Tokyo: Eat It

Fat Spoon
329 E. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012


Last night we met A & J in Little Tokyo for some cheap ass Japanese fusion at Fat Spoon from Michael Cardenas. Cardenas also brought us Little Tokyo stand-outs Aburiya Toranoko and The Lazy Ox Canteen , The Lazy Ox having made in onto J. Gold's 2011 99.  It houses the space that used to store East, the ever so slightly grungy discount sushi bar with special salmon and tuna nights. We are sad to see East go, one of the random non-corporate non-chain spots that make Little Tokyo an adventure (especially when the lines at Daikokuya are too long, which they almost always are, and which J. Gold took off the list this year). I bird-walk. If I had to give up East (where my own personal bamboo sake cup lived, but I didn't really go to very often), I am happy to give it up for Fat Spoon. Fat Spoon is a win.


These prices are great! So thrilled to have someplace new and nearby to eat where I won't have to even consider my wallet. I really wanted to try the uni pasta, but I am doing the Paleo diet with a more than moderate degree of fidelity so pasta is off my personal menu for now (although I did have a few bites of everything on the table, so this would be considered my cheat meal for the weekend). Really, there is nothing more boring than hearing someone talk about their diet. Oh, yes there is. Hearing someone talk about their weight or their own opinions incessantly. The latter of which is basically what a blog is, feel free to log off if you're bored.


Above, see the salads. These are entree salads, large enough for a meal for one or excellent for sharing family style. A couple dining at a table nearby shared one salad and one pasta dish, which makes perfect sense.


The pastas also are pretty large. D has a monstrous appetite and put his pasta in its place. Ang took a lot of hers home. One of the reasons I am loving Fat Spoon this morning is the intriguing ingredients on the regular and specials menus. Uni, salted cod roe, shiso, pancetta, pomodoro, kobe beef, jidori chicken, beef tongue, squid ink, and so on and so forth.


Curry list.


And a list of east/west sides, irresistible. French fried potatoes with curry salt is definitely going to be on the table at my next visit, and I will plan ahead to make it a cheat meal (I already know what my main course is going to be).


Uni croquettes. Perfectly golden fried, with a slightly bitter dipping sauce.


The combination of the creamy uni croquette filling and crunch was foiled perfectly against the dark savory/sweet bitterness of the dipping sauce. Inside the croquette was definitely uni-esque but not overly so. I think uni texture and flavor can be easily diminished, when I play with it I don't like to do much to it. But these were good, nevertheless.


Ang ordered the Hijiki salad, with hijiki (seaweed) and renkon (lotus), eda mame, daikon, red onions and so on in a soy ginger dressing. A huge hit with this one. Again, don't be deceived by the photo, this was huge. We all had heaping small plates of this salad as a starter. One of the best dishes at the table, lots of crunch and flavor.


I'm a little meh on the pumpkin soup. Luxuriously rich, this is clearly made with heavy cream and lots of it. I don't really have anything against a dairy based soup. I don't eat them out usually or cook them at home, but I like the way they taste. The problem with this one is that it wasn't super flavorful. It tasted pumpkiny, but not overtly earthily so. And there wasn't anything interesting to spice it up, sweet or savory-wise. But it wasn't bad. Creamy pumpkin soup.


J was torn between the tonkatsu curry and the tonkatsu sandwich. Our server tried to steer him in the direction of the curry, but J was leaning toward to sandwich. Again, another huge portion. J did not finish it, merely because of the size, despite really liking the flavor. He did not finish his meat, ergo he did not get any pudding.


Leave it to D to order the same old same old when faced with an interesting menu. Just like his brother. Seafood pasta in pomodoro sauce. He chowed like it was his last meal. Hmph. He is going to start going to Fat Spoon in Little Tokyo when I am out of town for work just for to eat this dish. I foresee this, mark my prophesy.


Short rib curry. So good, so spicy. Not too spicy, but definitely packs a punch. J thought the curry on his sandwich was very spicy, so if it was the same curry, it's a perspective issue. Nevertheless, this was rich and flavorful and I would happily eat it again. I ordered it with a simple side of steamed veggies instead of rice, and next time I think I will ask them to pour the curry over the veggies. I didn't think of it til just now but with that beautiful curry covering it, I would definitely finish all my veg.


For my palate, salted cod roe pasta was the dish of the evening. Tarako pasta with cream, a pile of nori and lots of green onions. A traditional recipe doesn't call for cream, but the cream in this added a lovely richness. Salty, rich, with that little crunch of the roe...omg I am in love with this dish! Not only am I going to return for this dish when I really need a giant plate of pasta, but I am going to recreate this at home, tonight, using spaghetti squash. This is good, if you go to Fat Spoon, you or someone at the table must order this and eat.


The meal was not flawless, but it rates a solid better than average. Because of the casual atmosphere, the low price point, the intriguing mixture of ingredients and preparations, I will be back and often. This is going to be commonplace dining for FST and company. Fat Spoon, you had me at bunny placemat.